State lawmakers slam unemployment agency for slow payouts

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In this May 15, 2020, file photo, cars line up at a food distribution center in Compton, Calif. California lawmakers had harsh words Thursday, July 30, 2020, for the state agency that pays out unemployment, accusing its leaders of failing Californians who are waiting weeks or even months to receive their benefits. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California lawmakers say the state’s department in charge of paying unemployment claims is failing residents by making them wait weeks or even months to receive benefits.

Assembly lawmakers held a tense hearing Thursday with Sharon Hilliard, head of the state’s Employment Development Department.

Since the pandemic caused millions of people to lose their jobs in March, the state has paid out $55 billion in unemployment benefits across 9.3 million claims. But more than 1 million claims haven’t been paid out for a variety of reasons.

In the hot seat, Hilliard said the delays are often due to errors in the applications, including skipped steps or failing to send along additional documents the department needs to verify their eligibility.

“There’s only so much we can do if the claimant isn’t going to go in and certify,” she told lawmakers.

But lawmakers took a starkly different view, saying the agency isn’t doing enough to help people with a complicated process.

“This desperation (among jobless people) is being met by a disinterested bureaucracy failing to answer the phones, reply to emails or offer even the most basic help,” said Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Lawmakers said the delays are forcing their constituents to rack up debt and forego rent payments.

“Despite months of good-faith efforts to work constructively with EDD leadership to solve the myriad of problems plaguing the agency, little to no progress has been made,” Assemblyman David Chiu said, the Los Angeles Times reports.

“Waiting until late September to clear the backlog of unfulfilled claims and to devise a blueprint for web improvements feels inadequate given the number of people left without income since March.”

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